Thursday, August 16, 2012

BBQ - Pulled Pork

I love me some good BBQ!  If I ever had to choose my "last meal", you can bet it would be some good ol' southern barbecue, because nothing beats the smell of a big slab of meat smoking over some hickory wood.  I'd like to imagine that is what Heaven will smell like.

Whole Hog

Like any guy, I've always liked to cookout on the grill, but didn't get into true barbecue until about 4 years ago.  Yes, there is a difference between grilling and barbecuing. Grilling is done hot & fast over direct heat. Barbecue on the other hand is cooked low & slow over indirect heat.  

Dustin's Bar-B-Q

My first smoker was a an electric bullet-style smoker that my uncle found at the end of someone's driveway set out for the trash.  I took it home, knocked the rust off with some steel wool, put a few extra screws in to support the shelves, rubbed it down with peanut oil, plugged it in, and ran a few rounds of smoke through it to season it.  It was a great little smoker, and I still have it today, but this is America where bigger is better, so two years later I picked up an offset smoker. I found it at (The) Walmart on clearance in the garden center for less than $40.  Now, after years of practice, I am smoking some of the best competition pulled pork around.  Just ask anyone who has been to my annual BBQ & bonfire bash (which we're planning for the 1st weekend in November this year, btw).

Alright, you came here for barbecue, I'm going to show you how to do pulled pork my way (almost. I still have my secrets).

  • THE MEAT: Pulled pork can be made from either the butt (shoulder), or the shank portions of the pig.  Good pulled pork is made from the butt (the shoulder, not the ass). It is commonly referred to as the Boston Butt.  I like big butts (and I cannot lie), and try to buy them in the 7 1/2 to 9 pound range for smoking. Bone-In of course for better flavor. Don't worry about trimming off the fat cap, it will melt off during the cooking process. Remember, fat = flavor!

boston butt

  • INJECTING: While smoking takes care of the flavor on the outside of the meat, injecting takes care of the flavor on the inside. Now I'm not going to share my exact injecting recipe, but apple juice, apple cider vinegar, BBQ sauce, liquid smoke, and even Coca-Cola are not uncommon ingredients to be injected into a pork butt. Experiment with it until you find something you like.

  • THE RUB:  After injecting, pat dry with paper towels, and apply a coat of yellow mustard to your pork butt. This will help tenderize the meat, and give something for your dry rub to stick to. Next, apply your rub. I like to use a rub that contains salt, paprika, brown sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and cumin.  I make my own rubs because I have found that most commercially made rubs contain too much salt. Don't skimp on the rub. Get in there, and rub that butt good... Are you done? Now wash your hands, then wrap your pork butt in a few layers of plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Over night is better.

  • PREPARING THE SMOKER: You'll need to soak your wood chunks in water for about 20 minutes to keep them from catching on fire. Use wood chunks or logs, but try to stay away from wood chips they burn up too quickly. The type of wood used when smoking can greatly change the flavor of the meat. Only use hardwoods like hickory, oak, mesquite, citrus, apple, or pecan to cook with.  Softer woods like pine contain a lot of resin that will give your food a nasty bitter taste, and are better off used as fuel for your bonfire (more on that later).  I like to smoke my pork over hickory with a little apple wood mixed in. When using an offset smoker use a 4 to 1 ratio of wood to charcoal, and always use a charcoal chimney to start your coals, NEVER use lighter fluid. Don't add charcoal to the firebox until it is ashed over, and ready.  This causes too many problems with temperature control.  You will want your smoker between 235°F - 250°F while smoking. Don't forget to rub down the grates with a little oil to keep your meat from sticking.

  • SMOKING YOUR PORK BUTT: Remove the pork butt(s) from the refrigerator an hour and a half before smoking to allow it to come to room temperature. This would also be a good time to sprinkle on some of your leftover dry rub. Place your pork butt on the smoker over indirect heat with the fat cap facing up. Close the smoker, and walk away.  Do not open the lid to look at your meat. If you're looking, you're not cooking. You've done the hard part, now sit back, and drink a beer or 6 because your pork butt needs to smoke for 10 - 12 hours until it reaches an internal temperature of 195°F.  You will need to add wood/charcoal about every 45 minutes to maintain your smoker at 250°F.

pork butt on smoker

  • RESTING YOUR BUTT:  When your pork butt reaches 195°F, remove it from the smoker, loosely wrap in aluminium foil, and place it in a deep pan. Be careful it will be hot! Allow your pork butt to rest for at least 1 hour before pulling. Place the pan into a dry cooler with a warm towel if you won't be eating it soon. It will stay hot for 3 hours this way. Don't pull your pork butt until you are ready to eat it! You will notice the pork butt giving up it's juices in the bottom of the pan as it rests. I use these juices make an awesome homemade BBQ sauce to pour over the pulled pork by simmering it on the stove with some of my dry rub, chili powder, apple cider vinegar, liquid smoke, ketchup, and brown sugar. When it comes to pulling your pork you have 3 options; chopped, pulled, or shredded. I prefer to hand-pull my pork even though it is a little more work. Just be sure to wear two pair of gloves if you go this route, because the pork will be hot.

pulled pork
pulled pork before sauce

It is a lot of work, but it's the best BBQ pulled pork you will ever eat! My family says it's better than 4 Rivers Smokehouse (for those of you in the Central Florida area), and I would have to agree even though 4Rivers has the best baked beans on this planet + fried pickles.


Once a year my wife, and I throw a BBQ & Bonfire Bash where I smoke two of the biggest pork butts I can find for about 20 of our friends & family. We have BBQ, beer, cornhole games, college football on multiple TV's outside, and when the sun goes down a bonfire in the back yard. Having a barbecue is a great way to get everyone together, and have a good time.


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